Community Lenten Service: The Road in the Wilderness

Deuteronomy 8.1-6, 15-16
Matthew 4.1-11 (The Temptation of Christ)

Have you ever felt like you were going in circles? Have you ever been lost?

Randy and I, not too long after we moved here, went to Greenwood Furnace and hiked up to the fire tower. On the way back we had the bright idea that when the hiking path cut across the gravel road, we would take the road back to Greenwood Furnace. Low and behold, as we descended the mountain we found ourselves entering Alan Seeger. We got much more of hike than we bargained for that day!

One can become weary in the wilderness. You can get thirsty, hungry, and your feet can begin to hurt. But you have no choice but to push on. Deuteronomy reads,

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

It is humbling to tell you the story of my wanderings. But there is one test, I want to pass. My journey through this world. At Christmas, Randy and I sent out a newsletter to our friends and family. A first idea for a title was, The Willis Wanderings. After some consideration we decided on The Willis Whereabouts, thinkng it sounded a bit more like we had some direction in life! But truth be told, sometimes this life can feel as though we are wandering. We don’t always know where we are headed. Life is full of twists of turns.

I remember when I went to college, I knew exactly what my major was to be and exactly what I what I wanted to do when I graduated. And when I graduated I didn’t want to do that anymore. I knew God was calling me to something else. I wasn’t quite sure what, so I got I job in my field. And I waited. That felt like wandering in the wilderness. I worked, I served in my local church, and every day I asked God, “Where are you leading me?” and a bit impatiently I also asked, “How long do I have to stay here?”

I know now he was leading me to this place, to local church pastoral ministry. But that doesn’t mean I have all the answers. Again, every day I humbly ask God, “Where are you leading us? Where are you leading your people?”

The point is this is not our home. As long as we are here, we will be dependent upon God’s guidance. The Israelite’s wandered in the wilderness 40 years until God brought them to the Promised Land. We, too, await that Promised Land. Jesus fasted and prayed and was tempted 40 days, until the angels came and ministered to him. We, too, depend on God to minister to our needs.

In Deut 8.2, God allowed the Israelites to wander in the wilderness
to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Jesus passes the tests that Israel failed
Jesus went in the wilderness and was tested, just the same as the Israelites, and the tests that they failed, Jesus passed.

Test 1
(Ex16) The Israelites lacked food and they complained, “we had all the food we could eat when we were in Egypt!” Jesus fasted and he withstood the temptation to use his powers to satisfy a personal need but quoting from Deut, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Test 2
(Ex 17) The Israelites lacked water and they quarreled with Moses. They were ready to stone Moses, blaming him for bringing them into wilderness to die of thirst. They tempted God saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” And Jesus was tempted to test God by placing himself in a life or death situation, by throwing himself off a cliff. Where Israel failed, Jesus once again resists temptation, quoting Deuteronomy once again, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Test 3
The Israelites failed many times the test of worshiping other gods. During their 40 years in the wilderness, we are all familiar with the account of Moses going up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments (and he is up there 40 days) and the Israelites get restless. They do not know what has happened to Moses and they build the golden calf to worship and say “This is the god that has brought us out of Egypt.” Here again, where Israel failed, Jesus passes the test: he does not bow to Satan, but quotes from Deuteronomy, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

Where Israel fails, Jesus succeeds. Where Israel sins against God, Jesus remains pure. Where Israel disobeys, Jesus obeys, and we are called to obey.

Remember again, the reason for Israel wandering in the wilderness, in Deut 8.2
to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Jesus passed these. He was humbled, choosing to gain the kingdoms of the world through his death on a cross. Rather than choosing the seemingly simple path, he chose the costly path. Jesus obeyed in the wilderness and he obeyed the Father choosing to die on the cross. Jesus did it all out of a heart that was pure, a heart that loved the Father and did not do or say anything that was not in agreement with the Father.

Called to the test
And we are called to a life that is humble, a life that includes testing so that God knows what is in our hearts and whether or not we will keep his commands.

The wonderful good news is that Jesus has passed this way before us. He has made a clear path through the wilderness for us. If we but follow him, trusting him, keeping our eyes on him. Jesus has gone this way in order that he might help us.

Hebrews 4.15,16
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Lent is a time of self-examination, a time to reorder our lives, a time to renew our dependence upon God. A time to ask God “what do you find in our hearts?”

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